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What the science says about COVID vaccinating children 12 to 15

Dr Abdel Razaq Musa Source: Dr Abdel Razaq Musa /Unsplash CDC

SBS Arabic24 speaks to experts about the science, fears and myths surrounding COVID vaccination for children aged 12 to 15.

On August 27, children aged between 12 and 15 were added to Australia's COVID-19 vaccine rollout, after the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommended Pfizer jabs for this cohort. 

Despite the possible but rare side-effect in younger people for mRNA vaccines, particularly myocarditis and pericarditis where the heart muscle and its surroundings become inflamed, the government’s expert vaccine panel argues that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the potential risks.

Medical experts generally agree a vaccination rate of at least 80 per cent among those aged 12 and above is essential to attain a level of herd immunity sufficient to stop large COVID outbreaks.

SBS News: Here's how vaccine passports could work for overseas travel and domestic use in Australia

*Sarah from Melbourne says: “I prefer to wait a year at least until the vaccines are tested enough on more children from that age group from different ethnic backgrounds.”

“How can I trust the medical advice on COVID vaccines if those vaccines are new to everyone?

SBS News: Will state borders have to stay open if Australia reaches its 80 per cent vaccination target?

ATAGI says "high-level evidence" from Moderna and Pfizer trials show high levels of immunity to COVID-19 for teenagers. 

In results of an ongoing phase III Pfizer vaccine trial with over 2,000 participants aged 12-15, vaccine efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19 from seven days after dose two was 100 per cent. 

Pfizer's vaccine has already been approved for use in children over 12 in many countries including the United States, Canada, and parts of Europe. 

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt pledged last month that all Australian children aged 12 to 15 will be vaccinated by the end of 2021.  

However, Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recently said that the benefits of vaccinating children between 12 and 15 against COVID-19 are “marginally greater” than the potential risks.

Experts argue that parents no longer worry about diseases that have been largely under control by vaccination, so fears have moved from the diseases to the vaccines. 

Paediatric specialist Duaa Gaafar finds it “unusual” to vaccinate adults and “leave children to catch the virus, which keeps mutating and changing”. 

“What’s the guarantee it won’t be more potent in children?” 

In the US, out of a known death toll of more than half a million Americans, children accounted for just a few hundred, or 0.05 per cent. 

Although COVID in children is sometimes milder than in adults, experts say that some kids can develop severe symptoms that require hospitalisation or suffer from complications, such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome. 

Data from the US and Canada suggest that the most common side effects of COVID vaccines in children aged 12 to 15 are similar to those in adults, including pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, and fever.

The rise of COVID infections among children during the current Delta outbreak in Australia has given the calls to vaccinate children a fresh push.    

The data on the Department of Health website shows that from January 1 to August 1, 2021, 13.4 per cent of cases were aged 10-19 years.  

In New South Wales, between July 2 to August 19, about 18 per cent of cases were in the 10-19 year age group (about 6 per cent in the 12-15 year age group). 

Until August 19, the total number of educational settings involved in the current NSW outbreak was 142, according to the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS).

Abdel-Razak Musa, a senior paediatric emergency physician at Adelaide’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital, says Pfizer and Moderna are the safest vaccines to use for children. 

“There is ample scientific evidence through clinical trials that demonstrate that the two vaccines are relatively safe compared to the other types of COVID vaccines,” he says. 

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has provisionally approved the use of the Moderna vaccine in individuals 12 to 17 years following evaluation of the available data supporting safety and efficacy. 

Dr Musa explains that adding children to the vaccine rollout depends on two issues.

“Once there are enough quantities of the vaccine and enough scientific evidence of vaccine safety through clinical trials, children are allowed to get the jab.”

Vaccine tracker: Who has had their COVID-19 jab in Australia?

The NSW government’s return-to-school plan involves compulsory vaccination for staff before November 8, but the plan does not make the jab mandatory for students.  

However, thousands of Year 12 students from the 12 LGAs of concern in Sydney's west and south-west have already been vaccinated as part of a NSW government push for this cohort. 

The NSW Premier said at the end of September that 47.6 per cent of 12 to 15-year-olds had also received their first dose and the uptake was expected to increase further now that they were eligible for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

The Victorian government allows young people to book their own appointment and consent to vaccination themselves if the health professional finds them to be mature minors. 

Like all vaccinations, the COVID vaccine is voluntary in Australia. 

*Name has been changed upon the request of the interviewee.

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